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California has good reasons to secede, but a noble reason to stay

California has good reasons to secede, but a noble reason to stay
Top of the Ticket cartoo (David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

As early as 1803, Federalists in the New England states were talking seriously about breaking off from the fledgling United States. They were alarmed by what they characterized as the "oppression and barbarity" of the federal government under the leadership of President Thomas Jefferson.

On Dec. 20, 1860, shortly after the election of Abraham Lincoln, South Carolina became the first state to go beyond talk and actually secede from the Union. Within months, 10 other slave-holding Southern states followed South Carolina's example. Secession did not turn out so well for the South and no one has made a serious effort to disunite the states since.

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That does not mean people in certain states do not still mull over the idea of secession when the powers-that-be in Washington are not to their liking. Early on in Barack Obama’s presidency, Texas Gov. Rick Perry half-jokingly talked about taking the independence road, while other Obama-hating Texans much more seriously pushed for secession.

Now, with the prospect of Donald Trump’s reign at hand, the secessionist talk has moved to the Left Coast. A group of activists has begun gathering voter signatures to put a measure on the 2018 state ballot that would ask, “Should California become a free, sovereign, and independent country?”

One of the groups backing the proposal is the newly formed California National Party. In a letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times, Kerry Cox, a party member, said his organization "is dedicated to liberating California from a union that is no longer reflective of our values, and from two political parties that either treat us with scorn and ridicule, or use us as a cash cow to finance elections."

Cox said California's share of U.S. defense expenditures is greater than the entire defense budget of Russia. "We're already a country," he said. "It's time to make it official."

Not many people think California's secessionists have the slightest chance of success. Still, there are plenty of folks in the Golden State who dearly wish they could be liberated from the coming Trump regime. In the Nov. 8 election, Californians voted heavily in favor of Hillary Clinton, while also passing measures to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, bolster already tough gun laws and extend taxes on the wealthy. Each of those choices put the state at odds with Trump and with members of the Cabinet he is assembling.

California's leadership on climate change, support of environmental regulations and opposition to new offshore oil drilling schemes is very likely to run afoul of the policies of the new administration and the Republican-controlled Congress. And California cities and universities are already going on record to say they will fight any Trump-led scheme to round up and deport undocumented immigrants, especially the thousands who are students in the state's colleges.

Like the revolutionaries of 1776, Californians could base their case for independence on a complaint of "taxation without representation." The state sends far more tax money to Washington than it gets back. At the same time, the votes of its 39 million people are dramatically underrepresented in the Senate and the electoral college due to the Constitution's built-in bias that favors sparsely populated Trump-loving states such as Wyoming, Alaska and the Dakotas.

As the sixth-largest economy in the world, a place where 2 million new jobs have been created in the last five years, California could do just fine on its own and might find people in the like-minded blue states further up the coast — Oregon and Washington — clamoring to join a progressive California confederacy. However, that truly is an ecotopian pipe dream (despite the fact that the stuff to induce pipe dreams is now legal in these parts).

What is much more likely to happen is that the West Coast will provide a counterweight to any Trump administration overreach and extremism. The best-case scenario: California will not split the country, it will save the country.

A group trying to get California to secede from the United States said the results of the presidential election give their cause new momentum.

Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter

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